The Spirit Hovers Over the World

The Spirit Hovers Over the World

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For those such as myself who have been participating in the renaissance in theology of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) that has been occurring in the Christian theological academy over the last generation or so, it is only natural to begin asking the question of what a pneumatological perspective on the sciences can contribute to the religion/theology and science conversation. Upon focusing the lens of “spirit” at the interface of these disciplines, however, researchers will probably be immediately bewildered and disoriented by the wide range of meaning the word or concept “spirit” carries in the religion and science dialogues. Having gained one’s bearings, however, theologians of the Spirit (pneumatologists) should be the least surprised since there is an inherent ambiguity about what “spirit” means even within the biblical traditions.

In this essay, I will lay out approximately sixteen different meanings of “spirit” that I see currently in use in the science and religion conversation. My goal is at least twofold. First, the following is an attempt to alert those working with the category of “spirit” to research done in disciplines other than their own. Oftentimes interesting connections open up when we see others proceeding in lines that parallel what we are doing. Alternatively, there may be some initial disorientation followed by resistance to find out that the category of “spirit” is understood by others in ways that may not be consistent with or amenable to our conception. In either case, any following dialogue or disputation needs to proceed from an informed position. While I need to be clear that this is only an introductory survey, it may nevertheless serve as a kind of interim status questions for trajectories in the “spirit and science” conversation.

My second goal, motivated by my work as a systematic theologian, is to ask, How can we begin to synthesize the very wide ranging research being done at the interface of “spirit” and science? That is a much larger task than what can be attempted in the pages of this essay. However, the kind of classification presented in the following is a prerequisite to thinking systematically about the relationship between “spirit” and science, and to engaging both the promise and challenges of the “spirit and science” dialogue.

Three caveats before proceeding, the first more personal and the second more methodological. First, as a relative outsider and newcomer to the religion and science conversation (my formal training and background is in religious studies and theology), my analyses and assessments of the scientific work in the following is submitted tentatively. At the same time, perhaps my observations and questions, coming through a freshly minted pair of “science and religion” glasses, may be provocative in a way that can benefit those with more familiar perspectives. Second, I make no claims that the following list is exhaustive; the classification simply reflects what my research interests in “spirit” have led to, and there is undoubtedly much that has not come to my attention. Further, there are undeniably overlaps between many of the sixteen types, and some readers will classify things differently than what appears. However, my goal is to develop neither an exhaustive nor rigorous scientific typology. Rather, I am simply motivated by the question, What does “spirit” mean in the religion and science dialogue? With these caveats in hand, we proceed directly to our typological scheme.

“Spirit” in the Science and Religion Dialogue

1. There is the very generic use of “spirit” which is basically synonymous with “religion.” In this usage, the breadth, depth, flexibility, and ambiguity of the word “religion” is simply transferred over into the word “spirit.” The generality of “spirit” operative here can be seen in such publications as the popular but very professional looking periodical Science & Spirit, and in such projects as “Science and the Spiritual Quest” (1). That “spirit” understood in this way lacks theological or any other content results in its capacity to mean both many things and nothing for the religion and science dialogue. In many ways, this represents both the promise and the challenge of “spirit” for the religion and science conversation.

2. Related to but yet distinct from the first is an understanding of “spirit” in terms of “spirituality.” More specifically, “spirit” in this case refers to an overall religious orientation or disposition toward the spiritual or non-material dimensions of reality and of human experience (2). While some have understood spirituality as referring to the human capacity to relate to and engage that which transcends the human realm, others have also understood such a transcendental reality in ontological terms. The ideas of Teilhard de Chardin regarding the evolution of the human species from being materially constituted toward being consciously aware and then spiritually awakened may bridge both of these understandings. In de Chardin’s framework, there are implications for the study of “spirit” as the study of the emergence of spirituality and of consciousness (see #11).

3. Anticipating the Teilhardian trajectory and perhaps contributing also to it from another perspective is “spirit” understood as synonymous with the ancient concept of soul or psyche. This meaning has been most developed in the tradition of theosophical esotericism. Derived in part from the philosophical idealism of Hegel (e.g., in Hegel’s use of Geist),(3) and in part from Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophical Wisdom) and, more recently, contemporary New Age religious and consciousness movements, “spirit” is here understood primarily in terms of “spiritualism” or “psychicalism,” both in contrast to materialism. The connections between the esotericist tradition (which includes also the ancient but reworked traditions of Gnosticism, Hermeticism and occultism) and the alchemical sciences have long been fairly direct. Here, then, is both opportunity and challenge for the science and religion conversation: opportunity precisely because esotericists are intentional in their engaging with the realms of “spirit” and “psyche,” but challenge precisely because the alchemical and occult sciences are widely thought to belong (at best) in the category of the anomalistic sciences (4). Yet this connection, once made, opens up to the wide range of contemporary psychical research, such as that occurring in the Society for Psychical Research, the American Society for Psychical Research, the Australasian Society for Psychical Research, the Scottish Society for Psychical Research,and many others. Is it possible or even desirable to sort through the massive data produced by psychical researchers over the last two hundred plus years in attempting to discern the wheat from the chaff for helping with our understanding of “spirit” in the world?

4. My willingness to raise the previous question derives largely from my own ecclesiastical location in and affiliation with the Pentecostal tradition. In Pentecostalism, as in most conservative, traditionalist, and evangelical Christian traditions, the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Spirit as divine person continues to prevail. Yet Pentecostals go beyond many of their orthodox Christian kindred to say that the Holy Spirit continues to act in the world and interact personally with human beings and communities. In this tradition, then, there is the ongoing expectation of the Holy Spirit’s answer to intercessory prayer, of the Spirit’s continual and personal intervention in the affairs of the world and in the lives of believers even when not specifically prayed for, and of the Spirit’s manifestation in the charismatic or spiritual gifts (as enumerated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7) (5). Of course, amidst all that occurs in Pentecostal circles are some rather fantastic accounts (many overlapping with the psychical claims of #3 above), and discerning between the valid and the spurious is not always easy. Pentecostals face the tension of (on the one hand) accepting a rather traditional supernaturalistic worldview along with at least some of the more embarrassing claims that come with it resulting in their being excluded from scholarly or academic conversation, or (on the other hand) attempting to reinterpret Pentecostal testimonies within a more naturalistic framework so as to be able to proceed acceptably with rigorous scientific inquiry into Pentecostal spirituality and experience. Obviously, neither extreme is desirable, and Pentecostals who are scholars and scientists are struggling to find a middle way on this matter. As more and more Pentecostals engage in scholarly and scientific research, the Pentecostal perspective on “spirit” in the world will be increasingly valuable (6).

5. Reference to “spirit” in Hegel’s philosophical idealism opens up not only to the theosophical movement (and a detour through Pentecostalism) on the one side but also to the emergence of Geist as a philosophical category informing a wide range of socio-cultural, social philosophical, and the socio-political disciplines by the turn of the twentieth century on the other side. References to the spirit and law, spirit and culture, and spirit and the arts can be found across the spectrum of discourses in especially the human sciences. Going down this road, of course, opens up to the question (for Christians) regarding the relationship of the divine Spirit to the human spirit understood collectively at its various levels (familial, ecclesial, communal, political, etc.). In broad terms, this is the investigation of the question and meaning of “spirit” in anthropological and, especially, sociological terms. Theological perspectives on this use of “spirit” would ask how the Holy Spirit is related to the many social movements historically and at present. (7).

6. A more specific anthropological use of “spirit,” however, can be found in the cultural-anthropological tradition stretching from E. B. Tylor through Malinowski to contemporary researchers such as I. M. Lewis, Felicitas Goodman, and Thomas Csordas (8). In its early forms, “spirit” was understood in animistic terms, and cultural anthropologists like Tylor and Malinowski classified as animistic the religious beliefs and practices of these “primitive” cultures. More recent researchers like Lewis have looked afresh at the phenomenon spirit possession (also known formerly as shamanism) which continues to be practiced in many indigenous cultures, (9) while others like Goodman and Csordas have explored pentecostal and charismatic type spirit-possession phenomena through cultural-anthropological tools and lenses. Arguably, the kind of cultural anthropological research I am describing here provides both empirical and theoretical perspectives on the “popular” rituals and practices of masses of religious people. In addition, these research projects conducted by trained cultural anthropologists reveal the tensions which exist whenever “outsiders” to a religious tradition attempt to enter sympathetically into another religious community as participant-observers; the products of such research can and should be brought alongside the findings of scholars whose academic work proceeds from within the religious community of their affiliation (as in the Pentecostal scholars referred to in #4) in order for the entire insider-outsider question to be more fruitfully analyzed. Finally, the findings of this tradition of cultural anthropology will provide comparative data for religious behavior which exhibit phenomenological similarities across multiple religious traditions, and in that sense, further illuminate our present understanding of the human religious “spirit.”

7. I now pick up on the “turn to the Spirit” in contemporary systematic theology. The pneumatological literature has literally exploded in the last thirty years in the theological academy. At the forefront of these developments has been the work of theologians like Jörgen Moltmann. While Moltmann has attempted to rethink the traditional theological loci from a pneumatological starting point, most important for our purposes has been his movement from a pneumatological ecclesiology and Christology to a pneumatological theology of creation (10). In rethinking a Christian theology of nature from a pneumatological perspective, Moltmann has helped push the discussion forward considerably from where it was before, and that along three lines. First, Moltmann has helped to overcome the traditional dualism between spirit and matter in general and between Holy Spirit and nature or creation in particular. This opens up the possibility for theologians to approach the dialogue with those working in the empirical sciences from an explicitly theological platform (rather than the theology being just an afterthought to the scientific perspective). On the other side, however, this pneumato-theological framework at the same time grants to the book of nature (and hence to science) its own authentic voice, perspective and contribution. By this I mean to say that a pneumatological theology assumes the diversity, distinctiveness and integrity of voices as heard originally at Pentecost to be divinely ordained for the glory of God, and in this case, the voices from the sciences need to be heard on their own terms (and not just on the terms of the theologians). Together, the emergent pneumatological theology of creation allows for, even demands, a rigorous scientific dimension and shapes a holistic theology which understands the interconnectedness of God and creation, of human beings and the environment, of mind and body, etc. In short, the Moltmannian project represents the emergence of a new theological paradigm which values rather than disparages the contributions of the sciences, while at the same time also enlarging the framework for pneumatological understanding to include, potentially, the entirety of the created order (11). Precisely because of these theological developments, however, midway into the first decade of the twenty-first century we can now ask much more specific questions about “spirit” and its relationship to the religion and science dialogue.

8. On tracks parallel to Moltmann’s over the last thirty years has been the various uses of “spirit” in feminist and eco-feminist discourses. In some ways, arguably, the impact of feminist and eco-feminist contributions has been just as, if not broader than, Moltmann’s, (12) since they have engaged in such disparate fields of inquiry as gender studies, race and ethnicity, peace and justice, environmental ethics, economics and globalization, and of course, goddess spirituality. In each of these discourses, feminists who have retrieved and attempted to redeem the category of “spirit” do so in order to reappropriate theological ideas without the patriarchal baggage of the tradition. Two questions arise at this juncture. First, are feminist perspectives on “spirit” somehow “more true” to the ways and movements of the Spirit? Put more stereotypically, do women have deeper insight (or intuition) into “spirit” insofar as “spirit” may name in some way the feminine dimension of the divine? Secondly, given the wide-ranging nature and inter- and multi-disciplinary pervasiveness of feminist and ecofeminist thought, how might their perspectives illuminate the religion and science conversation in general, and the idea of “spirit” and its relationship to science more specifically? Do feminist and ecofeminist uses of “spirit” suffer from the same kind of generality and ambiguity some of the others previously noted (e.g., #s 1, 2 and 7)?

9. Certainly along with the more general attempts of Moltmann, feminists, and others to develop a pneumatological theology in dialogue with the sciences are more specific efforts to focus scientific inquiry in ways that are somehow informed by “spirit.” Wolfhart Pannenberg’s proposal to understand the presence and activity of the divine Spirit in the world through the concept of fields of force is a case in point (13). While recognizing that the scientific concept of force fields has been developed to understand the causal interconnections and interactions of masses and material bodies in the space-time universe, Pannenberg suggests that the ways in which force fields work as dynamic environments that allow for the emergence of self-organizing systems provides a suitable analogy for understanding both the ancient Stoic concept of pneuma as the energy penetrating the entire cosmos and holding all things together, and the biblical concept of divine Spirit in whom we live, move and have out being. The boldness of Pannenberg’s proposal is that it raises methodological, scientific, and theological questions. Methodologically, can the denotative language of scientific field theory be read in pneumatological perspective without violating either science or theology? Scientifically, is Pannenberg wedded to a pre-Einsteinian field theory, and if so, how might post-Einsteinian understanding of quantum fields, among other more recent field notions, either advance or shut down the conversation? Theologically, is our understanding of God as Spirit helped or hindered when dependent upon scientific concepts like field theory, and what happens if/when such theories are either revised or discarded? Together, however, I believe that these questions merit further, even if cautious, attention, and that theologians and (especially) physicists need to work together to engage these issues (14).

10. Another proposal that is more specific in some respects and less specific in other respects is the possibility of bringing various notions of “spirit” into dialogue with the biological sciences. This is more specific in that we are moving from field theory that is concerned with cosmological matters to biology that is concerned with terrestrial life in general and human life more particularly. Of course, we have already noted cultural-anthropological approaches to the study of human life which have also engaged with the idea of “spirit.” Understandably, however, the biological sciences are much more reluctant to utilize the “spirit” – or even “soul” – concept given the obvious reasons that there are no agreed upon definitions for “spirit” (or “soul”) and that it is therefore practically impossible to test. However, perhaps in part parallel to (even if distinct from) the Teilhardian notion of “spirit” (#2 above), recent researchers have talked about biological emergence that suggest how it might be helpful and perhaps even unavoidable to think about the emergent complexity of human life in terms of “spirit” (15). In any case, the ongoing attempt to understand the nature of life is a task that should not be left to the biological sciences along, and “spirit” perspectives may yet prove to be illuminating for this question.

11. But what about moving from the more broadly biological dimension to the more specifically neurological dimension? Or, to ask the question in another way that makes connections to even earlier suggestions, what about moving from the socio-cultural dimension of human religiosity (discussed above – #6) to the neurological and cognitive dimension of religious experience? Some would argue that this is the move in our study of human nature from “spirit” understood in socio-cultural terms to “spirit” understood in neurobiological terms. In either case, what we get are important perspectives in response to the question, “what does it mean to be human?” From the angle of cognitive science, however, this question of human nature is approached first and foremost through inquiry into the human brain and the neurophysiological system. While much exciting work is being done in these areas, allow me to highlight two distinct even if related trajectories. First, might we be able to make any advance on the age-old question, “what is the nature of consciousness?” While those exploring this question have not neglected to take into consideration the psycho-social aspect of human consciousness, (16) brain science is increasingly confirming that the hardware of the neural network is the essential platform from which social relations and intersubjective consciousness emerges. Rather prominent in the recent literature, then, is talk about the emergence (see also #10 above) of mind or consciousness as a higher level complexity derivative from but irreducible to the neural mechanisms of the brain. In this case, the former dualism between mind and body is yielding to various kinds of monistic perspectives on human beings as bio-psycho-social unities, and of human consciousness as inextricably interconnected with human embodiment (17). But second, and related to the first, might we be able to explore empirically how the divine Spirit interacts with human beings? Here the work of “neurotheologians” like Andrew Newberg and Rhawn Joseph will need to negotiate the pitfalls between the Scylla of neurological reductionism (which interprets religious experiences in an entirely naturalistic and materialistic sense) and the Charybdis of theological generalization and domination (that shortcuts the hard work of empirical science) (18). In the case of both research programs, the question of “spirit” in general and of human spirit in particular has been reopened and will/should continue to be re-engaged in dialogue with the cognitive sciences.

12. I suggest that one fruitful connection between these biologically and neurobiologically based studies and traditional pneumatological theology is the idea of information. In biology, information at the cellular and genomic levels is crucial for the organization and emergence of life forms in ever-increasing levels of complexity. More specifically, systems of life at all levels interact with their environments and the processed feedback injects new information that leads to systemic transformation. Hence, this kind of self-organization that can be seen operative from the most elementary to the most complex levels of life demonstrates how life is self-ordering, self-structuring, and self-transforming given the proper biological, social, and environmental conditions. And, of course, the applicability of information theory is not limited to biological or neurological systems, but can (at least in principle) be applied to thinking about the interactions between systems at every level of the cosmic hierarchy. While some have connected information theory with the divine Logos, (19) from a pneumatological perspective, I suggest that the Spirit who knows the depths and mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11) is the divine source of information necessary for the ordering of biological life. With regard to God’s action in the world, some have speculated that the Spirit communicates the divine aims to the world at the level of quantum, molecular, and perhaps cellular indeterminacy (bottom-up causality), while others have proposed that the various levels of biological and other systemic self-organization interact with multiple contiguous, higher- and lower-level environments including that belonging specifically to the divine Spirit (top-down causality). Those who are more partial to the former model may be drawn to process philosophical and theological frameworks which emphasize the interiority of all actual occasions and their openness to the subjective aims of God, while those attracted to the latter model may find panentheistic interpretations of the God-world relationship more helpful. So while there is no specific “spirit and information theory” research proposal on the table (to my knowledge), because it builds upon but is still distinctive from other research programs dealing with the emergence of life and of mind (#s 10 and 11) I think it appropriate to identify this as a separate use of “spirit” in the religion and science dialogue.

13. Another use of “spirit” with implications for the science and religion dialogue is that by philosophers of religion who are also religious naturalists (20). One who uses explicitly the category of “spirit” and does so in dialogue with the pragmatic philosophy of Peirce, the evolutionary metaphysics of Justus Buechler, and the depth psychology of Jung is Robert Corrington (21). While Corrington’s project assumes rather than specifically engages the most recent advances in the sciences, it is also much more philosophically sophisticated than most other visions of religious naturalism. At the same time, such a naturalistic (non-theistic) understanding of “spirit” allows for the retention of a rigorous scientific platform without doing away completely with the kind of religious orientation to life which embraces the beauty and wonder in nature and the evolutionary process. If the main advantage that religious naturalism affords is its assumption of a causally closed universe that can take the deliveries of the empirical sciences at face value, its major criticism comes from religionists who think that the naturalistic notion of “spirit” is evacuated of all substantive religious and theological content. Further research which intentionally brings advocates of religious naturalism into the science and religion dialogue is needed to advance the conversation.

14. Corrington’s naturalistic understanding of “spirit” is not the only one that is philosophically rigorous and psychologically engaged. James Loder’s idea of “spirit” as relationality is also developed in substantive dialogue with the disciplines of philosophy and developmental psychology (22). In brief, Loder suggests that “spirit” refers to the quality of relationality wherein two disparate things or realities are held together in a way that does not compromise their distinctiveness or integrity, and expands this idea into a theological anthropology of human development. The pneumatological bases of Loder’s philosophy of spirit are clear: the biblical and theological tradition both testify to the Spirit who is of the Father and of the Son, who brings God into relationship with the world, who connects divinity and humanity, who bridges the creation and the eschaton, etc. Within this framework, Loder’s lifelong interests have been focused, from a Christian perspective, on the realization of spiritual healing and the actualization of spiritual maturity in human lives and on the question of how spiritual development can be nurtured in individuals, congregations, and communities. Certainly Loder has left a legacy, especially among practical theologians and behavioral psychologists. While it can be said that Loder’s use of “spirit” coincides in some way with that of spirituality, that he thinks from a specifically Christian framework contrasts to the more ambiguous uses of “spirit” in #2 (above). Hence, there is a need to bring Christian practical theologians and psychologists who work with Loder’s ideas together with other psychologists, philosophers, and religionists to explore further the convergences and divergences of “spirit” at the intersection of these disciplines.

15. There are other psychologists, counselors, and pastoral care theorists who work with the category of “spirit” in ways distinct from Loder’s. While some of this work cuts across two or more religious traditions (landing them more or less in the New Age “camp” discussed under #3 above), specifically Christian perspectives usually bring fairly traditional understandings of the Holy Spirit into dialogue with contemporary psychology, spiritual formation theory, and the latest developments in the theology of pastoral counseling and ministry. The work of practical theologians like Oliver McMahan of the Pentecostal Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) fits into this category (23). While McMahan’s work as a Pentecostal would certainly fit into category #4, his engaging with the broad spectrum of Christian thinking on matters related to Christian spiritual formation and pastoral counseling and practice means that the pneumatological ideas of his thinking is of wider relevance both in terms of praxis and in terms of the science and religion conversation. Research questions might include: do pneumatological themes distinctively shape pastoral praxis and spiritual formation theorizing? How do different models that adopt varying definitions of “spirit” compare and contrast theoretically and practically? Does the discipline of pastoral or practical theology provide means for measuring various understandings of “spirit” according to their “fruits” in the lives of individuals, counselees, and congregations?

16. Finally, in the sense of saving the best – certainly the most complex – for last, what about “spirit” in the Christianity-science-other religions trilogue? By “trilogue,” of course, I am referring to the dynamics that occur when science is injected into the interreligious dialogue table (24). In some ways, this should not be a surprising phenomenon. The relational and holistic explications of certain strands of “spirit” in the Western theological and philosophical tradition (see #s 3, 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14 above), for example, have already proved to be useful bridge connecting not only science and religion, but also the monotheism of the Western traditions with the nature spirituality of the Eastern traditions. The recent work of polymaths like Ken Wilbur takes this kind of conversation much farther than did the popular books on T’ai-chi-c’huan and the work of Capra and Zukav of the previous generation (25). Looking ahead, I suspect that it is only a matter of time before Jewish scholars approach the science and religion dialogue by drawing upon the resources of the Hebraic concept of ruach (spirit) (26). The primary pneumatological question these developments raise is whether or not we have found in “spirit” a truly universal religious category that may be fruitful for both the interreligious and the science-and-religion dialogues. With regard to the former, science could perhaps play the role of adjudicating the disputes between two or more religions in the sense that it is a third-party that is arguably neutral to the faith traditions. With regard to the latter, multiple religious perspectives could potentially shed further light through their various pneumatological perspectives on scientific theories and perhaps even on the interpretation of scientific evidence and data.

The appearance of “spirit” in the Christianity-science-other religions trilogue also has implications for the methodological question that perennially confronts the science-religion dialogue, namely: are science and religion incommensurable “languages” to some degree, and if so, can the science-religion conversation be modeled on or learn from the interreligious dialogue on these matters? I would suggest that the question of whether Christians and Buddhists can ever engage each other meaningfully is analogous to the question of whether theologians or religious persons and scientists can ever engage each other meaningfully. On the interreligious side, the difficult questions involve the “insider-outsider” issue, the idea that beliefs are nested within practices, and the challenge of identifying religious tradition in essentialist versus dynamic terms. How religionists have engaged with these questions is potentially illuminating for the science and religion dialogue since it also features an “insider-outsider” problematic, the idea of scientific inquiry as proceeding within paradigmatic traditions and practices, and the essentialist-dynamist spectrum. Having said this, it also seems that how those in the science and religion conversation have negotiated these issues can in turn illuminate the similarly thorny questions at the interreligious dialogue table.




Finally, let me say that from my perspective, we cannot underestimate the value of further inquiry the relationship between “spirit” and science, and how that relationship can further illuminate and even extend the religion and science dialogue. From the foregoing overview, it is clear that some progress has been made along many fronts even while much more research is called for on all fronts, all with the goal of illuminating this most ambiguous notion of “spirit” in the world. At the present state of knowledge, we can look back on the category of “spirit” and understand much better why the history of the idea has been rather ambiguous all along (27). In hindsight, I suggest that these various paths of inquiry are attempts to pierce through the veil of the mystery of divine presence and activity, and that together they illuminate – some more so, others less so – the hidden realm of God as Spirit in the world. As a Christian theologian, I welcome all efforts to shed further light on what the New Testament calls the “hagios pneuma,” and to that end, I anticipate future developments in the dialogue between “spirit” and science.






The sixteen uses of “spirit” in the dialogue between religion and science:

1. “spirit” as synonymous with religion

2. “spirit” as spirituality

3. “spirit” understood in theosophical terms

4. “spirit” in Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical, and conservative Protestantism

5. “spirit” as a philosophical category used in philosophy of law, political philosophy, philosophy of culture, etc.

6. “spirit” used in the tradition of cultural anthropology (vis-a-vis animism, spirit-possession, etc.)

7. “spirit” used in systematic theology and in the renaissance in Pneumatology

8. “spirit” in feminist and ecofeminist discourse

9. “spirit” and field theory (Pannenberg)

10. “spirit” and emergence in the biological sciences

11. “spirit” and consciousness in the cognitive sciences

12. “spirit” and information theory

13. “spirit” and religious naturalism

14. “spirit” and relationality (Loder)

15. “spirit” and pastoral care

16. “spirit” and the interfaith dialogue



1 This generic equation of “spirit” and “religion” is perhaps also exemplified in Camillus D. Talafous, O.S.B., ed., Readings in Science and Spirit (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966), and Ravi Ravindra, ed., Science and Spirit (New York: Paragon House, 1991).

2 E.g., Kevin Sharpe, Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000). See also the discussions of “Spiritual Progress” and “Laws of the Spirit” in John M. Templeton, The Humble Approach: Scientists Discover God, new rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 1995), chs. 8 and 13.

3 See Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001), who argues for the occult underpinnings of Hegel’s idea of Geist.

4 Even if the lines are not quite so easily drawn – see Henry Bauer, Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies (Urbana, Ill.: The University of Illinois Press, 2001).

5 See my paper, “The Spirit(s), the Heavens Above and the Earth Beneath: Toward a Theology of Creation in Pentecostal and Pneumatological Perspective,” presented to the Templeton Foundation Symposium on Pneumatology, New York City, 12-14 November 2004, and my forthcoming The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), esp. ch. 7.

6 See also Amos Yong and Paul Elbert, “Christianity, Pentecostalism: Issues in Science and Religion,” in J. Wentzel van Huysteen, gen. ed., Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan Reference Library, 2003), I: 132-35.

7 This would bring biblical and theological pneumatology together with social analysis. One study amenable to such a convergence is the realistic biblical pneumatology of Michael Welker, God the Spirit, trans. John F. Hoffmeyer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994).

8 Representative publications by the very prolific Lewis, Csordas and Goodman include: I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession (London: Routledge, 1989); Thomas J. Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); and Felicitas D. Goodman, Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences and How about demons? Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988 and 1990 respectively).

9 I would argue that the emergence of channeling in occult and New Age circles over the past century is simply a modernized and Westernized form of indigenous spirit possession rituals.

10 Beginning with Juergen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), and continuing with God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), and The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) – all translated by Margaret Kohl – among other works.

11 Moltmann’s recent and most focused engagement with science is Science and Wisdom, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

12 To be sure, there have been feminist pneumatologies that have impacted the theological conversation – e.g., Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women, Earth and Creator Spirit (New York: Paulist, 1993); Rebecca Button Prichard, Sensing the Spirit: The Holy Spirit in Feminist Perspective (St. Louis: Chalice, 1999); and Nancy M. Victorin-Vangerud, The Raging Hearth: Spirit in the Household of God (St. Louis: Chalice, 2000).

13 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), esp., “The Spirit of God and the Dynamic of Natural Occurrence”; “The Doctrine of the Spirit and the Task of a Theology of Nature,” in Pannenberg, Toward a Theology of Nature: Essays on Science and Faith, ed. Ted Peters (Louisville: WKJP, 1993), ch. 5; and “God as Spirit – and Natural Science,” Zygon 36:4 (2001): 783-94.

14 Working along a line parallel to but distinctive line from Pannenbergian field theory is Joseph Bracken, S.J. “Spirit” is also a central category of Bracken’s, but is set emergent from his own dialogue as an orthodox trinitarian theologian with neo-Whiteheadian process philosophy. Among a number of books, see esp. Bracken, Society and Spirit: A Trinitarian Cosmology (Selinsgrove, Penn.: Susquehanna University Press, 1991).

15 Thus Harold J. Morowitz, The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), suggests that the evolution of life has proceeded through twenty-eight levels of complexity and culminated, so far anyway, with the emergence of “spirit.” See also Niels Henrik Gregersen, ed., From Complexity to Life: On the Emergence of Life and Meaning (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

16 E.g., Leslie Brothers, Mistaken Identity: The Mind-Brain Problem Reconsidered (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), esp. chs. 8-10. See also essays by Niels Henrik Gregersen, “God’s Public Traffic: Holist versus Physicalist Supervenience,” and John A. Teske, “The Social Construction of the Human Spirit,” both in Niels Henrik Gregersen, Willem B. Drees, and Ulf Görman, eds., The Human Person in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 2000), 153-88, and 189-211 respectively.

17 E.g., Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony, eds., Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998); Joel B. Green, ed., What about the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004); and Malcolm Jeeves, ed., From Cells to Souls – and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

18 Cf. Eugene G. d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), Eugene G. d’Aquili, and Vince Rause, Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001), and Rhawn Joseph, ed., NeuroTheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience (San Jose, Calif.: San Jose University Press, 2002).

19 On christology and information theory, see John C. Puddefoot, “Information Theory, Biology, and Christology,” and Arthur Peacocke, “The Incarnation of the Informing Self-Expressive Word of God,” both in W. Mark Richardson and Wesley J. Wildman, eds., Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 301-19 and 321-39 respectively. See also Alexei V. Nesteruk, Light from the East: Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), for a rich discussion of the correlation between Orthodox theology and modern cosmology, albeit one developed in dialogue with christology (primarily) rather than pneumatology (minimally). I have not yet been able to consult the intriguing title of Bodo Wenzlaff and Manfred Feder, Die Wirklichkeit des Geistes: eine philosophisch-naturwissenschaftliche Theorie des Geister und der Information (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 1998).

20 The most prominent naturalistic philosophers of religion are David Ray Griffin, Delwin Brown, Jerome Stone, and Nancy Frankenberry, among others associated with the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought. The accomplished cell biologist, Ursula Goodenough – author of the widely acclaimed The Sacred Depths of Nature (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) – also advocated a naturalistic religiosity. None of these thinkers, however, have adopted in any sustained manner the language of “spirit.”

21 Corrington is also active in the Unitarian Universalist Association. He has written or edited fourteen books. The most relevant for our purposes are Corrington, Nature and Spirit: An Essay in Ecstatic Naturalism (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), Nature’s Self: Our Journey from Origin to Spirit (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), and Nature’s Religion (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).

22 James E. Loder and W. Jim Neidhardt, The Knight’s Move: The Relational Logic of the Spirit in Theology and Science (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1992), and James Loder, The Logic of Spirit: Human Development in Theological Perspective (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998). I develop the idea of spirit and relationality partially in dialogue with Loder in my Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002), esp. ch. 3.

23 See Oliver McMahan, Becoming a Shepherd: Contemporary Pastoral Ministry, Scriptural Counseling: A God-centered Method, and Deepening Discipleship: Contemporary Applications of Biblical Commitments – all published by Pathway Press in Cleveland, Tennessee, 1994, 1995, and 2000 respectively; cf. also McMahan, “Pneumatology, The Identity of the Holy Spirit and Resulting Implications for Counseling,” in John Kie Vining, ed., The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: Essential Papers on Spirit-Filled Caregiving. Theological Foundations (East Rockaway, NY: Cummings & Hathaway, 1997), 85-96, and “Spiritual Direction within the Pentecostal/ Charismatic Tradition,” in David Benner and Gary Moon, eds., Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 152-68.

24 I attempt such a tri-directional dialogue between Christianity, Buddhism and science in my The Spirit of Creation: Pneumatology and the Christian-Buddhist-Science Trilogue (under consideration with Fortress Press’ Theology and the Sciences series).

25 Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (Boston: Shambhala, 1997), and The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (New York: Random House, 1998); cf. Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, ed. Richard D. Mann, SUNY series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003).

26 Daniel C. Matt, God and the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony between Science and Spirituality (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights, 1996), deals with “spirituality” – here understood as synonymous with the Jewish religious tradition – within a Kabbalistic rather than pneumatological framework.

27 This ambiguity is documented in Paul S. MacDonald, History of the Concept of Mind: Speculations about Soul, Mind and Spirit from Homer to Hume (Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003).